Whenever I go on a trip, I try to pick up some cool stuff from wherever I visit, whether its zines or comics or records or whatever. I want something local or just plain weird that I couldn’t just find everywhere. I recently took a two month trip across America, and in almost every city I tried to get something little to have as a keepsake. It could be just a sticker from the Third Man Store in Nashville, or a fridge magnet from the Sub Pop store in the Seattle airport, but I just wanted something that I could look at or listen to later and be like, “I remember where I got that.”
In almost every city we went to I tried to hit up the record store(s) to see if anything looked too cool to pass up on. If I were a less restrained person I would have bought wayyyy more shit, but I limited myself to just a couple picks that were reasonably priced. Here are the unique records and tapes I picked up and the fairly average stories behind them, presented in chronological order of when I bought them.
Plains – Birthday Island (cassette)
The kind of hipster part of Nashville is East Nashville, which is luckily where we were staying at a nice couple’s house via Airbnb. We didn’t even plan it like that, it just worked out that way. There was a little strip of store nearby with a vegan restaurant and clothing stores and a little records and guitar shop. I saw this tape on the wall for $4 and, caught by the art and colours, asked what it sounded like. The guy in the store told me it was some dude in Alabama and it was sort of ‘party rock’ or something. It is, but it’s off kilter and cool and goofy ‘party rock’.
Long Legged Woman – Nobody Knows This Is Nowhere (LP)
Athens, Georgia is known for having a great music scene. It started back in the 80s with REM and the B-52s and continues to this day with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Of Montreal. Going through the locals section at legendary record store Wuxtry Records – where Michael Stipe and Peter Buck apparently met and talked about music – I came across this beautiful screen printed cardboard jacket. I checked out the band online and loved the dirty, feral sound – that actually is pretty well matched by the cover – so I picked it up for $15.
Natural Blonde – S/T (cassette)
This is a really cool little EP I picked up at New Orleans’ Euclid Records, I great store that actually was located on the street we were staying on. It’s kind of hazey, 90s-ish indie rock. It was also just $4 at the store.
Portland Bike Ensemble – S/T (LP)
I found this album in a cool record store in San Francisco, the name of which I forget. I was actually leaning towards a collection of old Algerian pop songs that the guy was playing in the store, but as the record played on, I felt it got too shmaltzy and decided I didn’t want it. I saw this crazy cover and thought it looked interesting. I also saw that it was put out by Olde English Spelling Bee, which I knew to be a pretty cool label. It was also only $10. I thought it was going to be some cool group from Portland playing weird, interesting, Portland-y songs, maybe not unlike Oregon Bike Trails, but when I took the record back to where we staying and was able to hear some of it (now that I had access to Wi-Fi on my phone), I realized this was actually a group that played bicycles as instruments. Not even in like a cool Blue Man Group, actually-making-music way, but in a ridiculously Portlandia-tastic way, in which they just bang on bicycles and record the sounds as some ‘avant garde’ shit. I actually wanted to return it and get something else, but I just didn’t have time. So now if I’m ever chilling and want to hear the sounds of weird people banging on bicycles, I have this record to satisfy that desire.
Various – Black Plastic Singing Flats Volume II (cassette)
Something about San Francisco didn’t sit right with me, so my second day in the Bay Area I went to explore Oakland, which I heard is kind of like the Brooklyn to San Fran’s Manhattan (and this is sort of true, but not totally). I actually really liked Oakland and had a better time there than in San Fran, and while I was there I checked out another great record store called Jam Econo Records. They had a big cassette rack on the wall and the cover of this caught my eye. I asked if I could listen to it and luckily the store had a stereo system with headphones where you could ‘try before you buy’. This 23-song cassette is full of awesome Asian pop songs from the 60s and maybe 70s, featuring badass orchestras and fuzz guitar and a lot of great combinations of Asian and Western sounds of the time. I listened to a couple songs and loved almost every one, I can’t wait to listen to the whole thing (but I need to buy a new cassette player first).
(Note: This is off volume 1 of the Black Plastic Singing Flats comps, but this is what volume II sounds like for the most part too. I couldn’t find any of volume II online.)
Various – Those Shocking Shaking Days (LP)
I saw this at a record store in Olympia. It’s a compilation of hard, psychedelic, progressive rock and funk from Indonesia in the 70s. I’ve been interested in weird international music for a while now, and they were having a sale on vinyl compilations, so even though this was the second most expensive record purchase of the trip at $24, it was marked down from around $30 (they’re usually pretty expensive) making it a relatively good deal. It’s a triple-disc set with a detailed booklet about the songs, the artists, and the politically turbulent times in which the music was made. Even a cursory listen to what’s on YouTube from it will tell you that it’s excellent. Perhaps the best purchase of the trip.
Roachclip – Discovery Park (LP)
We were only in Detroit for a couple hours, but luckily there was a record store close to the Greyhound station, so I was able to walk over and check out some local records there while we waited for our bus back to Toronto. Turns out that even though the city is basically dead and decrepit, the Detroit music scene, which has been responsible for so many great things over the years, from Motown to The MC5 to Eminem and The White Stripes, is still going strong. I asked them to put on a couple local tapes and records for me and I liked all of them, but eventually decided to go with this one, which had a real ramshackle charm and was just $12. The guy in the store, before playing the record for me, told me it sounded kind of like the Velvet Underground and that would be a correct comparison. It’s got that kind of chugginess to it, but it’s very loose and cool and fun.
I actually have a couple more tapes and another record that I got for free or whatever, but I’m not sure if they’re interesting enough to even write about. I did pick up the new My Bloody Valentine album used (somehow) but in perfect condition in Seattle for $25 (compared to the going price of $39.99 new everywhere) but everyone knows about that one, no point writing more about it. So yeah, it was a great trip, good times, good food, good people, and some very good music